2:16 AM

How to Take Criticism

9th February 2011


“Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary.
It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body.
It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.”
~ Winston Churchill

Criticism is crucial for personal improvement. It’s the most direct way to find out what you should improve on. However, accepting criticism can be emotionally challenging. Afterall, we’re only human, who wants to hear bad stuff about ourselves?

It’s hard to not take it personally. Our instinctive reaction is to become defensive and we shut out potentially helpful and life-enhancing tips. By doing this, we miss out on what could supercharge our improvement.

So how can you take criticism without getting self-conscious and defensive?

Answer: An effective way to accept criticism is to externalize it.

When you externalize criticism, you escape the defensiveness trap. You stop being self-conscious and take criticism objectively, which lets you reap the benefits of the helpful tips that the criticism contains.

The criticism isn’t directed at you personally, but at a writer, artist, worker, developer (or whatever else you’re getting feedback for) that just happens to have the same name as you. When you take criticism objectively, your initial defensiveness fades away, simply because you’re not taking it personally anymore.

Externalizing criticism lets you extract helpful tips from even the most critical feedback. You take the bits that make sense to you and discard the rest. You don’t risk getting defensive or even feeling bad or self-conscious.

Externalizing criticism is also a shield from bad and unhelpful criticism. It doesn’t matter how much or what kind of comments and criticism you get: you look at it all objectively. You can take what makes sense to you and discard the rest.

When you externalize criticism, you can easily take and use it to supercharge your personal improvement.

5 Steps to Effectively Taking Criticism

Ready to improve your taking of criticism? Good.

Next time you ask for feedback, follow these 5 steps to externalize criticism:

1. Wait for your gut reaction to pass before doing anything – let your emotions disappear, so you don’t take the criticism personally and become defensive
2. Imagine the criticism is directed at someone else – some person who happens to have your name and does exactly what you do
3. Keep your mouth shut – listen, don’t defend
4. Discuss the person’s points – asking questions will a) help you to get even more useful tips from them, and b) externalize the criticism more (you’re seeing it even more objectively this way)

Rinse and repeat every time you get feedback until externalizing criticism becomes a habit.

(Bonus) How to even more effectively take criticism:

1. Be confident – believe in what you do, so that even the most critical comments don’t sway your direction
2. Have a clear goal in what you’re doing – so when you ask for feedback on it, you can take criticism to improve the key areas rather than let others dictate the direction and get lost

Why It’s So Hard to Take Criticism

The reason we get defensive when taking criticism is because we’re tied to our ego. So when someone is giving tips on how we can improve, that person is indirectly acknowledging that we’re not great at something. And our ego gets bruised.

As Dr. Leon F. Seltzer explains in his Psychology Today article on why criticism is so hard to take:

“Criticism, even well-intended criticism, can be understood as a direct assault on our ego. When (however unconsciously) we’ve come to associate our very selves with our ego or point of view, then whenever our perspective is questioned, disbelieved, or disputed, we cannot but experience ourselves in jeopardy – our mental and emotional poise at once thrown into disequilibrium.”

Even if it’s made clear that the criticism is not to criticize but instead show how you can improve, you naturally want to defend yourself. And when you go into defensive mode, you don’t get the tips from the criticism that could really supercharge your improvement.

So detach yourself from your ego – at least when you take criticism. Externalize the criticism so you look at it objectively, rather than as a critique of yourself (and thus your ego).

Nazirah : My Experience with Criticism

Back then, I don't really care what people think of me. When they told me that they don't like my attitude or the way I handle things, I think that I'm right, and they should be able to accept it.

But as I grew up, I am able to take criticism more openly. I will never get mad to the person who criticized me. I thank them for telling me my minus point. Only true friend are able to do that.

After they criticized me, I will listen and never argue. But if I had my reason, I will tell them. But then I guess, it is in our instinct to be defensive. But I do take note and on my own free time, I will think it thoroughly and think of ways to improve whatever it is that has been bothering them.

So friends, if you had anything about me you want to critic, feel free to contact me. I welcome criticism, that's the only way one can see oneself from another person's eye :)

How to Take Criticism

Having trouble taking criticism? Know that the useful tips can help, but you block yourself from them by taking criticism personally and getting defensive? Don’t worry – it’s a natural reaction, and there’s a solution: Effectively accept criticism by externalizing it.

You’ll supercharge your personal improvement by being able to easily get useful tips from people’s feedback. You’ll look at the criticism objectively and take away what makes sense to you, using it to improve what you’re doing. And by listening and discussing instead of defending, you’ll get even more use out of the criticism.

Now go out there and ask for some feedback. Take the criticism, externalize it, and supercharge your improvement.